Home Professional Learning Planning Now for Engaging Staff Development Later

Planning Now for Engaging Staff Development Later

by Dr. Bruce Ellis
staff development

Before you know it, August will be here and staff development sessions will be in full swing as the new school year begins. Planning now is a must for making sure that you have all the best strategies and tools put together to help your teachers start the year with confidence. To help in that process, here are three tools you might consider integrating into your training for deeper, more engaged learning.

Brainstormer for Staff Development

Getting teachers engaged in discussions during staff development is sometimes challenging. One way to ensure that they engage is to build buy-in to the topic/concept that is being discussed in the training. Brainstormer helps you do just that. Sometimes it is easy to dismiss free tools because they fall short of creating amazement. But that’s not true for Brainstormer. Besides just brainstorming, which is a helpful onramp to any discussion, the free site allows teachers to upvote the topics/ideas that have been shared. This is a great way to build consensus.

If you were teaching with Google between 2008 and 2015, you may have come across the Google tool Moderator. Moderator was relinquished to the Google Graveyard leaving teachers in a lurch to accomplish both brainstorming AND voting in one tool. Fortunately, Brainstormer has come along and is much more intuitive for both teachers and students.


Giving feedback, whether it is to other teachers or to students, is so helpful in improving the quality of a product. That product could be a teacher skill used in the classroom or a student activity that helps students develop and demonstrate skills. But feedback can be difficult. I’m great at giving detailed, meaningful feedback when I’m starting to grade, but my comments become shorter and more succinct (i.e. less robust and meaningful) the further down the stack of grading I go. If a students is assessed earlier in the stack, she gets the benefit of more attention from me while, unfortunately, the last students assessed get a few short bullet points…maybe.

This is where Mote shines brightly! This freemium tool allows you to easily give audio feedback comments to students. The free version allows up to 30 seconds of recorded comments while the paid versions give 60 or 90 seconds, depending on the plan you choose. There is no limit to the number of “motes” you can give. Mote lets you use your voice to leave comments in Google Docs, Classroom, Slides, and Gmail. You can even add verbal comments to any web page using Motepad. Once you add the Chrome extension, you’ll be ready to start sharing your verbal comments!

This tool may seem a little clunky at first since it doesn’t allow you to listen to the mote INSIDE the document itself. Instead, each mote is provided via a shortened URL that opens in a new tab, thus taking you or your students out of the environment (Docs, Classroom, Slides, etc.) that you happen to be in at the moment to listen to the audio. If you can look past this unfortunate feature, you’ll find Mote a great tool to use as you share audio feedback, instructions, comments, and ideas with others.


During training, it is always best practice to ask teachers how they would apply what they have learned when they are back in their classrooms, the benefits of applying that information, and where they can find more information or support if they hit any barriers in the process.

Using FutureMe is a great way to help do just that. Have teachers to go the website and schedule an email to go out sometime in the future, at least seven days from now, but could be a month or so. Give them this outline of questions/statements to share with their future selves:

  • What is the topic/concept/strategy that you learned about today?
  • Share the gist of the learning that took place.
  • What are two benefits to you and/or your students to be gained by implementing the topic/concept/strategy?
  • Share if you had an “aha” moment today and what it was.
  • Where can you go for help – who can you call, website to visit, district resource, etc.?

Have them think of the letter to their future selves as a sales letter telling them about today’s learning. Try to have them recapture the freshness of the learning, any excitement or fun that occurred, or relevant insights that they might need reminding of later on.

You don’t need a login for the FutureMe website. It is a freemium service, so if it is something that you decide to use often for yourself, you might look in to the benefits of what the upgraded plans offer.

Let TCEA Help with Staff Development

I would be remiss if I didn’t share a gentle reminder that TCEA is happy to provide top-notch, hands-on learning for your educators. We can offer face-to-face training tailored to meet your specific needs, self-paced online training that is convenient for busy educators, and various conferences that allow like-minded, tech-loving teachers and administrators to get together in well-designed learning events. If you would like to find out how we can help meet your specific needs, feel free to contact me at your convenience. You can reach me at bellis@tcea.org.

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